2014 EU Street Nomenclature Directive

The 2014 EU Street Nomenclature Directive was a controversial piece of EU legislation intended to regulate and systematise the naming of streets in European Union member states. It’s primary function was to ensure that all EU streets were given unique names, with duplicate names altered, in order to clean up a system which the EU’s Committee for Transport, Tourism and Pedantry described as “repetitive, incomprehensible and needlessly convoluted” in a 438 page proposal submitted in 1994.

Though the bill was unpopular with the general European public, it was finally ratified in June 2014 amid controversy over aggressive negotiations by Belgian MEP Frédèric Delvaux to secure its passing. It was later revealed that Delvaux was in fact a majority shareholder in a European Law Consultancy firm which would subsequently make over €1.2 billion in providing legal advice to affected parties, during a litigation process which spanned more than 40 years and is rumoured to have prompted one civil war. What follows are some of the more notorious cases to spring from the directive…

High Hill vs High Hill
High Hill vs High HillIn 2022, the European Court of Justice heard a case relating to the disputed ownership of the name “High Hill”. Of the 37 High Hills that existed within the European Union, 35 of them chose to accept the ECC’s €12,000 compliance incentive, changing their names in accordance with the new specifications, with the result being such addresses as 12 Upraised Acclivity and 341b Towering Protuberance. Of the two that remained, a bitter and involved court battle was fought. High Hill of DL11 in North Yorkshire, England, felt they had a strong case, living as they did 7,132 feet above sea level and boasting the world’s highest pub in the High Hill Inn. They met strong opposition however, in Amsterdam’s High Hill of postal district 1012 XM. Though located in an uncommonly flat country, the residents of the latter maintained that the name High Hill was an essential part of the flourishing trade in marijuana that the street enjoyed, and constituted a brand name which encouraged people from all over the world to get “cataclysmically baked” in their cafés.

Recognising the merits of both cases, Judge Miguel Garcia appointed a special commission at the Committee for Transport, Tourism and Pedantry and tasked them with answering one simple question: is there a mathematical formula by which it is possible to compare the relative highness of elevated geographical features and chemically inebriated humans? After an extensive 3-year study (during which time it was rumoured that one team member had been found in an “altered mental state” on the slopes of Ben Nevis, wearing just his pants and using a barometer to eat his cereal) the commission concluded that it was indeed possible, and put to the court that the physiological effect of being 100 feet above sea level was roughly equivalent to 0.8 marijuana cigarettes. Therefore, in order to maintain a “chemical altitude” of 7,132 ft above sea level, the inhabitants of High Hill 1012 XM must be ingesting 570 spliffs, or around 17.8 oz of marijuana on any given date. Turning their collective accounts over to the court, the residents and traders of the street were able to prove that, taken as a yearly average, there was approximately 18.4 oz being consumed on their premises every day.

The case seemed to have swung inextricably in favour of the Dutch, until a dramatic interjection from the counsel for High Hill North Yorkshire. Cross-examining the representative of the CTTP, he provoked the startling admission that it was also possible to correlate an altitude of 100 feet above sea level with the effect of 1.6 pints of Black Sheep Ale and that, when accounting for its daily consumption in the High Hill Inn, the street must therefore lie somewhere between 12,824 and 12,825 feet above sea level. At this point the court room was filled with the twin sounds of a rousing cheer from the North Yorkshire contingent and a surprised but appreciative gasp from their Dutch counterparts. Not waiting to hear the rest of the case, the two parties set aside their differences and convened to the High Hill Inn for a celebration which one expert estimated would put the pub’s chemically-adjusted altitude “somewhere in the upper reaches of our atmosphere”.

Rue de Bois vs Rue de Bois
Now a classic case among language students studying the often surprising results of etymological investigation, the Rue de Bois Paris 93400 vs Rue de Bois London SW9 hearing of 2015 had originally seemed an open and shut case. The counsel for the Parisian tenants committee put to the court that the name’s Gallic origins were clear, and that it had most likely been introduced to London by a French protestant church established in Brixton in around 1550. Noting that this area was now predominantly Caribbean in population, they maintained that its original context was now entirely absent and that the title must therefore remain French in ownership. Appealing what seemed to be a hopeless cause, the Brixton tenants association turned to local historian Delroy Perry for help. After scouring local newspaper archives he turned up an unexpected fact; the street’s real name was “Shrub Street” and its current title a misnomer with a very simple explanation.

Rue de Bois vs Rue de BoisProducing a photograph taken on Shrub Street’s North East corner during the area’s 1971 JayDay Reggae Festival, Perry directed the court’s attention to a street sign just visible behind a group of Jamaican youths. The lettering which had once spelt out Shrub Street was now obscured by boldly scrawled green and gold graffiti proclaiming not “Rue de Bois”, but “Ruede Bois!”. Perry put to the court that this enthusiastic corruption of a popular Jamaican slang term had been misinterpreted by Brixton council surveyors during a 1972 refurbishment of the area, and suggested that the dispute be settled by adopting this unofficial moniker, exclamation mark and all. Delighted with his findings, the residents of the newly founded ‘Ruede Bois!’ announced a street party to celebrate, telling their French opposition that they could keep their “Wood Street” for themselves. Dismayed by this somewhat ambiguous triumph, the Parisians declared that they had never wanted the name anyway, and would henceforth be known as “L’Avenue de Personnes Agréable”.

Woodcock Avenue vs Woodcock Avenue
The most well-known and protracted case in the UK was the Woodcock Avenue vs Woodcock Avenue hearing of 2031. It is notable both for its surprising outcome, and for the near-identical ownership claims the parties brought; Woodcock Avenue of Leeds L8 claimed that it derived its name from renowned industrialist Thomas Woodcock Jr, whereas Woodcock Avenue of London NW2 purported to draw its title from renowned colonist Thomas Woodcock Jr. A mere coincidence, one might think, until one was to learn that Thomas Woodcock Jr and Thomas Woodcock Jr were in fact estranged identical twins – separated at birth after a parental dispute (allegedly concerning which one was which) in around 1835. Each had gone on to achieve great things – Thomas Woodcock Jr pioneering many important technological advances in the textile industry, and Thomas Woodcock Jr bringing order and government to the British Indian Empire.

Woodcock Avenue vs Woodcock AvenueThe judge in this case (on an unconnected note also known as Thomas Woodcock Jr) was faced with the difficult prospect of weighing up the respective merits of efficient textile manufacture and complex imperial logistics. The residents of L8 claimed that the latter was a long forgotten relic of England’s barbarism, and deserved to be consigned to history, whereas the tenants association of NW2 countered that fabrics were for girls and that the other Woodcock must have been “a right ponce”. After several fruitless weeks spent attempting to establish a legal basis for this accusation, the judge eventually came to an innovative solution. It had been established that both streets were almost directly linked to the motorway then known as the M1, which ran through the heart of England and connected the two feuding cities. In a sensational judgement, he pronounced that these roads be merged into one and that the entire stretch of the M1 should henceforth be known as Woodcock Avenue. Though initially resistant, both parties consented to this when lawyers advised them that it would entitle them to free parking along the entire road after 6.30pm on weekdays and the case was settled. Only one administrative wrinkle remained overlooked, and postman Herbert Mellish of Leeds L8 was dismayed to discover one morning that his Woodcock Avenue route now stretched over more than 193 miles. In a sad postscript to the story, Mellish disappeared somewhere along this distance one afternoon in 2034, and neither his body nor his bicycle were ever found.